Context

Defined simply, context refers to the circumstances surrounding a particular piece of writing. Often, context is something you cannot directly control, but you can adapt your writing so it is appropriate for your circumstances. Context consists of the time, location, events, and culture surrounding the piece of writing.

Time

When writing or reading, considering when the writing takes place can be crucial to map out a conversation. In research, looking at when particular sources were written could give you an understanding of past attitudes and perspectives. Likewise, if you are writing a piece that is meant to take place in the past, you may need to adjust your language and presentation of ideas based on what the common norms were of that time period.

Location

Just like it is important to consider where an audience is located, it is also important to consider where the writing is located. Is the piece of writing appearing in a magazine or a scholarly journal? Depending on your answer, your conventions and style of writing will need to shift.

Events

Writing is often a response to an event, so it is important to consider the conversations and events that led to the writing. For example, the Declaration of Independence is not just a document; rather, it is a document spurred by a series of important events that led to its creation.

Culture

The culture in which a piece of writing is written can have a significant impact on how it is written and interpreted. Culture encompasses a society’s language, practices, and common beliefs. If writing in a particular country or new area, it may be important to investigate what conversations are or are not appropriate. For example, while many US citizens criticize public officials openly in written forms, in some countries, that practice would be inappropriate.


Example

Now that you have this information, it is time to put it into practice. Below is an excerpt from an article,  “About the Boys: Tim Winton on How Toxic Masculinity is Shackling Men to Misogyny”. We have broken down the elements of context so that you can see how understanding the surrounding circumstances may make it easier to analyze and interpret the article. These observations can be used to make an argument about the culture of the time period in which it was written and the content and topics of the article.

Excerpt:

In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young men in particular are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective. And that’s dangerous.

Toxic masculinity is a burden to men. I’m not for a moment suggesting men and women suffer equally from misogyny, because that’s clearly and fundamentally not true. And nobody needs to hear me mansplaining on the subject of the patriarchy. But I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels and metastasizes in families. Slavery should have taught us that. The Stolen Generations are still teaching us. Misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.

A man in manacles doesn’t fully understand the threat he poses to others. Even as he’s raging against his bonds. Especially as he’s raging against his bonds. When you’re bred for mastery, when you’re trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy, how do you find your way in a world that cannot be mastered? How do you live a life in which all of us must eventually surrender and come to terms? Too many men are blunt instruments. Otherwise known, I guess, as tools. Because of poor training, they’re simply not fit for purpose. Because life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.

Can we wean boys off machismo and misogyny? Will they ever relinquish the race, the game, the fight, and join the dance? I hope so. Because liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and clearly, and most clearly of all, in our politics.

Time

2018. A very divisive time, culturally, politically, religiously, and in other aspects.

Location

The Guardian is a publication based in the United Kingdom, but reaches an international audience. The author is a white Australian man.

Events

Mass shootings perpetrated mostly by men have led to widespread conversations about toxic masculinity. A large number of men in high-profile positions of power have been accused of sexual misconduct. The Me Too movement has reignited interest and awareness regarding issues of toxic masculinity and cultural misogyny.

Culture

Men (and women) are taught and encouraged to view women as objects. Women are taught that looking good is the only value they have.